Police Chief Warns Of Staffing Shortage
By: Tom Moran Jr.
Police Chief Michael J. Miller has warned Town Manager George H. Dunham that the police department could be facing some significant staffing shortages in the coming year and those shortages could place a bigger strain on the town’s budget in terms of overtime spending.
In an interview this week, Chief Miller said he is anticipating losing as many as six police officers, mostly due to military service, in the coming year. He said because civil service restricts him from filling these vacancies using part-time or temporary officers, he is going to be relying heavily on his remaining officers to work overtime shifts.
The chief said last year, the overtime account was about $80,000 in the red, and that was a good year, in terms of his staffing numbers. With all of these officers expected to be gone in the coming months, he said the deficit in the overtime account could be as high as $100,000 to $150,000 by the end of the fiscal year.
“We know the reserve fund request is going to be huge,” Chief Miller said.
Chief Miller said he is already down one officer, who is out on maternity leave. Although he expects her to return in January, no definitive date has been set yet. Another officer, Thomas V. Glaser, has told the chief that he plans to retire, effective November 1.
But the chief said he must wait until Officer Glaser files paperwork with the retirement board before he can begin the process of replacing him. And that is a process that could take as long as a year to complete.
“It takes anywhere from eight months to a year to hire somebody, send them to the Police Academy and get them trained to be on the road,” said Chief Miller. He added that he is at the mercy of the state in terms of when it offers the Police Academy training.
Patrolman Nicholas R. Giammarco has already informed the chief that he anticipates being activated for military service in the Air Force for six months some time in the late spring or June. And Patrolman Timothy J. Kane told the chief that he will be required to give 40 days of service for military duty in the Army reserves this year. Chief Miller said that Officer Kane indicated that he will be able to break these days up so that he will not be gone for 40 consecutive days, but there is still some question as to whether that will happen.
Chief Miller said his biggest loss will occur in January if Sergeant Michael J. Nurse, a member of the National Guard, is deployed as is anticipated.
“Mike is the IT person in the station,” Chief Miller said.
Although the town’s Director of Information Technology Michael S. Twomey offers his help to the department whenever possible, Chief Miller said maintaining the six different computer systems in the police department is a full-time job. Sergeant Nurse is also responsible for running the weekly payrolls, which is a two-person job, with one person creating the payroll and a second person checking the payroll.
“It’s a very complicated payroll system,” the chief said.
Although the chief’s administrative assistant Janice Rezendes and Lieutenant David J. Guillemette have both been trained to run the payroll, Ms. Rezendes recently announced her plans to retire in April.
The chief said he has also been working without Patrolman William R. Patton who has been on military leave with the National Guard since last February, but he is expecting him to return this February.
And there is still a question as to what disciplinary action will be handed down to another officer, Patrolman Dennis J. Byrne. Officer Byrne has been on paid administrative leave since June after he was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, a blunt object. The patrolman, while off duty, allegedly assaulted a man, causing injuries that required 37 stitches to the victim’s face. Although an administrative hearing on this incident has been completed, Chief Miller said he is still waiting on the town manager’s decision as to the disciplinary action. The chief said even if termination is recommended, Patrolman Byrne could appeal the decision, stretching out the vacancy even longer.
The chief said he is looking at other areas in his budget where he could make some cuts, but there are some things he will not skimp on. He said, right now, he tries to have three vehicles on the road and one administrative sergeant in the office during each shift.
“I refuse to drop down to two cars on the road. I think three cars is already inadequate in a town of 23,000 people and 40 square miles. It’s well below the state’s recommendation,” he said.
If he has to cut back on services, he will consider putting the court officer and the high school resource officer back on the road. He may also have to consider putting a detective back on the road.
Chief Miller said he is also looking at the required 40 hours of training that each officer needs to complete annually and seeing if it would be possible to complete some of the training online, so that he does not lose officers completely for five days.
He is also considering cutting back on his vehicle replacement line item by not replacing one of the two vehicles he budgets for each year. But, he said, that may not be the most financially beneficial option.
“We buy cars on a two-year rotation and we try to keep the cars until they hit 100,000 miles. We could stretch it out a bit, but then maintenance costs go through the roof,” said Chief Miller. The department budgets $35,000 annually for maintenance costs for its fleet of 20 vehicles.
Chief Miller said the police vehicles have a lot of wear and tear because they are on the road 24 hours a day.
Adding insult to injury with staffing problems is the fact that a state community policing grant that helped to fund the department is no longer available.
Chief Miller said in the past he has been able to use some of this grant money to help offset a deficit in the overtime account and that last year he was able to whittle down the $80,000 shortage in that account to just $40,000.
Now that the grant is gone, he has been forced to cut some services. He explained that in past years, the grant money helped to pay for police details for town events such as the Captain Gerald F. DeConto 5K Road Race and some of the Holly Days celebration. Now, he said, the organizers of those events will have to shoulder the cost of the police details.
“This was the first time in eight years that I had to charge the DeContos for the police detail. They paid for it with the money raised from the race but that cuts into the scholarship money they give out,” he said.
The grant money also helped to pay for such things as the Citizens Police Academy and the Junior Citizens Police Academy.
“There may be one regional grant available to keep the Citizens Academy going one more year,” he said.
Mr. Dunham said it is not unusual for town employees to be activated to military duty, and the town will do every thing it can to support these individuals.
“This is something we have had to deal with over time, in many departments, including my own. The police department is a little unique in that there seem to be more people there who are in the military. Unfortunately, the timing is bad in the sense that so many people from one department are being activated at the same time. Without a doubt, we will have to hit the reserve account, but that is why the state created reserve funds, for situations like this,” Mr. Dunham said.
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